1. Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.  “Kerouac” is a cool name, I guess. It has almost all the vowels. Why is this book supposed to be good?
  2. Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner. I read this every year with our federal litigation class. It’s my favorite book about how to practice law. The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law by Mark Herrmann is a close second. And since we’ve somehow fallen into a best-of list, my favorite book on brief writing is probably The Winning Brief, also by Bryan Garner. But in fairness to Ross Guberman, I keep a tabbed copy of Point Made close at hand so I can find spicy verbs (pages 198-99) and smooth transitions (pages 274-77) when my brain fails. And I always use BriefCatch. As a practical matter, I rely on the Guberverse resoruces much more than Making Your Case or The Winning Brief. On the other hand, I also use Garner’s Redbook (a lot) and Modern American Usage (not so much). And Reading Law (whenever possible). And Black’s Law Dictionary, of course (you wouldn’t believe how often, yet somehow not as much as Webster’s Third). This is exhausting. What were we talking about?
  3. Would You Kill the Fat Man? by David Edmonds. Nope. I would not push a large man off a bridge and into an onrushing trolley’s path to save the lives of five people tied to the track. I am a moral monster. Edmond’s treatment of trolley problems is quick and fun, but I would have liked more depth.
  4. Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Okay, I actually read this last month but forgot to include it in the post. Leadership follows the careers of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ, pulling lessons from their performance. The first part of the project is fantastic; FDR’s hundred days and LBJ’s push for the Great Society read like science fiction today, and are a useful reminder that government can actually do stuff. The second part of the book–the leadership lessons–didn’t land as hard for me. There’s an awful lot of survivorship bias here. We’re talking about four of the most talented Americans who lived in the past two centuries. Looking at how they handled crises is interesting, but if we’re going to learn from them it would help to know if, say, 10 million less talented people tried the same strategies and failed.
  5. Ask a Pro by Phil Gaimon.  I’m not sure that this even counts as a book. It’s more like the cycling equivalent of that collection of golf jokes that every dentist keeps in their bathroom. Anyway, I liked it.
  6. Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. An angry little book about punctuation. Too British. Otherwise good.
  7. Alexander and Caesar from Plutarch’s Lives. Alexander didn’t do that much for me, although it was interesting to learn how crosswise he got with Aristotle. Caesar, by contrast, was amazing. Imagine Game of Thrones but all about Tywin.
  8. Meno and Crito by Plato. Back to freshman year Intro to Western Philosophy. (Hi, Professor Fowler!) Meno is worse than I remember. Crito is way better: either persuade the law or obey it.
  9. The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant. There’s a lot in here that I liked–in particular, the good work Durant does placing great philosophers and their ideas in historical context, and tracing lines of thought and inquiry down through the ages. As a work of synthesis, this book is fantastic. Also, everybody’s favorite line from Aristotle–“[W]e are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”–isn’t Aristotle at all. It’s Durant talking about Aristotle in this book! And the the whole chapter about Voltaire is awesome (especially the bit about him making a fortune by being better at math than the Parisian bond lottery). That said, the book has more than its share of cringey moments; the author and his subjects were all, shall we say, creatures of their time.
  10. Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. This is a refreshingly lucid explanation of zen sitting meditation, or zazen. It helps illuminate the differences between zen practice and generic  mindfulness exercises.